More Than Just a Walk

Hook up the leash, set an intention and you’re on your way to making every walk a training session

By Renée Erdman

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Carving out time in our busy schedules to work on training with our canine companions can be tough. If we want to see results it takes consistency, dedication and time—a challenge for those of us balancing family, work and outside interests. Training is an on-going effort we must invest in in order to keep our dogs motivated and on track. Our dogs are family members and their behaviour can dramatically impact our—and their—quality of life. So how do we fit in the daily training sessions our dogs so desperately need?

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Every walk can be a training session.

Our dogs need daily exercise and chances are you are taking them for a 20 minute walk every day. Treat this time as your opportunity to make some focused changes in your dog’s life. Not only does a walk provide physical exercise for you and your dog, it provides mental exercise as well. Mental exercise is actually more tiring than physical exercise. We need to engage our dogs with training and mental stimulation sessions daily.

Set an intention.

Before you lace up your shoes and leash up your pup, decide what you’d like to work on. It could be that you are working on pulling so you’d like to reinforce loose-leash walking. Perhaps your dog is often distracted and your intention is to engage with them throughout the walk. Maybe your dog has reactivity issues and you are keeping your dog at a distance while reinforcing with yummy treats when they notice other dogs and keep their cool. It could be as simple as asking or waiting for a sit before crossing the street or interacting with people on the street. The scenarios are endless. Whatever needs work, take it outside and take advantage of your walks.

Keep them close.

Far too many times I’ve witnessed someone walking their dog on a flexi-leash while they are talking on the phone and not realizing their dog is approaching another dog that may or may not want to interact. We need to be conscious of this and respect other dogs’ space. I like to use a waist leash because I can adjust it to keep my dog close and I can keep my hands free so I can reinforce the behaviour I like with treats. I call this “connected walking.” I want my dog to be checking in with me with eye contact regularly so that the many outside distractions won’t have me yanked or pulled towards things.

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Strengthen your bond.

It’s easy to slip into feeling like taking the dog for a walk is a chore. We multi-task talking on the phone and texting with scooping poop. Sometimes a quick walk does have the purpose of just a bathroom break, which is fine, but we have to keep in mind that committing time for training ensures our furry family members are healthy and happy. Take the time for a focused walking/training session and you will see results in terms of behaviour as well as a strengthening of the bond you share. You will find that your dog is connecting with you more during and after walks.

Make it fun!

Benches, concrete walls and stairs are all great opportunities to teach your dog to jump onto things, off of things and around objects. This is all stimulating for their noggins! Hand targeting or luring with treats can encourage them to explore different objects they may not naturally jump on. Get creative and you will see how much they enjoy these new training sessions with you.

So, you can see that while you don’t think you have time to work on training every day, you actually do! Take that morning or evening walk and turn it into an enriching and stimulating training session that you and your pooch can benefit from on a consistent basis.